published Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Renters frustrated with unfit conditions


by Chris Carroll
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Bryant Davis, 13, walks past an overflowing trash dumpster on his way home from school September 03, 2010 in the Cambridge Park apartment complex.

Unpaid water bills and absent owners could render families homeless as the city of Red Bank decides whether to classify two apartment complexes as “unfit for human habitation.”

Lacking running water, units at Ridgemont Park and Cambridge Park could be condemned.

“If there’s no running water, we have to condemn,” Red Bank Public Works Director Wayne Hamill said.

Water service is included in the rent at the complexes, but the owners in Syracuse, N.Y., often must be badgered to pay the bills, Red Bank officials said.

Tennessee American Water spokeswoman Kim Dalton said privacy issues prevented her from talking about specific billing problems with the complexes, but Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey said he hears from Tennessee American “fairly often” and is forced to nag the property managers until water bills “get wired from New York.”

A manager at Ridgemont Park hung up when contacted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and Cambridge Park Apartments staff never answered the phone or returned messages.

RESIDENT FRUSTRATIONS

Apartment tenants say they’re frustrated with conditions at both complexes.

On a hot September morning, Mary Basler knelt outside her Ridgemont Park apartment, along with about 20 residents who work second and third shift, sometimes both. They listened as Red Bank employees tried to explain how they’ll deal with toilet water on the floor and black mold funneling through air vents.

Basler was through listening. One of the employees told the group to “settle down,” but Basler didn’t want to hear it.

“I had one leg shaved in the shower and then the water went out,” she said. “I won’t settle down.”

Two miles down Dayton Boulevard at Cambridge Park, 21-year-old Christopher McJunkin and his girlfriend, Brittany Scoggins, 20, said they get sick once a month from dry rot smothering the appliances inside their apartment.

“My chest feels like a cinder block’s on it,” McJunkin said. “There was no filter in our AC unit, so it was blowing black mold out the whole time.”

His girlfriend quickly chimed in.

“The water shuts off for two days every few weeks, and I can’t take a shower or brush my teeth in the morning,” Scoggins said. “I get ready for work at work.”

“Then the pool got condemned for algae in the middle of summer,” McJunkin said. “It was green as a Mello Yello bottle. That’s where my $544-a-month rent money goes.

“No one should live here,” he said.

FEW OPTIONS

While Red Bank officials feel they must do something, the consequences of mass eviction have them hesitant to take action.

TO GET HELP

If you want Red Bank code officials to inspect your apartment at Cambridge Park or Ridgemont, call 877-1103, ext. 3. You must invite officials, since the apartment owners will not allow government inspections.

“It’s getting real sticky,” Hamill said. “We’re trying to help residents find other places, but there’s only so much a government can do.”

Hamill said Red Bank can’t give money to evicted residents. About 40 percent of the apartments at Ridgemont are unoccupied — leaving room for some evicted patrons — but city officials said mold and sewage have polluted many of those units, too.

Dorsey said neither apartment complex has granted the city the right to inspect, so he is encouraging tenants to invite city workers on their property to see if it needs major attention, even condemnation.

The most extreme option spooks Michelle Green, 38, a Ridgemont tenant who said she opened a cookbook to see roaches crawling out.

Her boyfriend, Travis Hayworth, 41, said he threatened to call the Better Business Bureau before apartment staff brought working burners for their stove weeks after a first request.

“Some of my kids go to Red Bank High School, and they don’t want to switch,” Green said. “Money’s so tight. I don’t know what I’ll do.”

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AndrewLohr said...

Glad they're hesitating, bad as the places sound. Condemnation is when rich, powerful people tell poor people who do have a place to live: find someplace else to live. Not the way Jesus loved/loves the poor.

September 7, 2010 at 5:27 a.m.
wallyworld said...

Thank you Mr. Lohr. It's sad how this nation has turned its back on Christ's teaching. The republicans claim moral superiority and yet they would deny the basics of life to people less fortunate. So hateful in their rhetoric but still claim they are "Christians" -- not by the standards I grew up with. I feel like I'm living in a third-world country and people are actually stating they want to turn the keys back over to this gang of thieves, liars and fake Christians.

September 7, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.

Simply stop paying your rent. All of you. The issues will llkely start being addressed

September 7, 2010 at 7:37 a.m.
senyahc said...

Seriously, as Bilbybobbillygoat said, stop paying rent. You were guaranteed water, you are not getting it... the pool was an option, it is out of order, the garbage isn't being picked up, then take your rent money, and get some bags and bag it up.

Slum lords listen to one thing, money.

September 7, 2010 at 8:43 a.m.
deltenney said...

I agree with Billybobbillygoat! Hit them in the pocketbook! This is untenable -- but I am wondering if the tenants might consider forming a committee to represent them and demand more attention from the landowners; this is terrible. It looks as though they need to empty those dumpsters regularly and the tenants need to have containers they can reach so they do not end up with garbage on the ground. It appears to me common sense would tell the management this is out of control and needs to be addressed immediately. It will take a lot of habit changing on both sides to improve the situation. Good luck. Poor people do not have to live in filth anymore than rich people. My heart goes out to the tenants -- hold that landlord responsible for starters.

September 7, 2010 at 8:49 a.m.
bikermaniac101 said...

Wow, I have actually lived in the Ridgemont appts and now a friend of mine is subrenting from me. Some of those stories may be true, but i know for a fact that it depends on the actual appt complex. There are like 5 different complexes in Ridgemont as a whole and it is conditional to some of them. Although I think the rent thing could work, it would have to be a unified effort. I don't think it would work for one person to not pay rent. I do think that you could gain media attention if all the neighbors, and all the people in the complex joined together and didn't pay rent. That would draw major attention, whereas one person not paying their $540 would be evicted.

Lets do a quick calculation, if there are 6 appt complexes that make up Ridgemont appts, 3 floors, and lets say 20 rooms per floor. Thats 360 appts and $194,400 per month that they are earning up in New York, thats net not profit but still you get the point. They aren't living in state, they are benefitting greatly. If everybody, even if half got together and took a stand, it would get ugly first, then the media would RUN with the story.

September 7, 2010 at 10:05 a.m.

What world is wally living in? Repubs the only evil? Slum Landlords in LA, Chicago, Miami and NYC are Libs and Leftists too. Charlie Rangel is one slimy, international slumlord and he's a Dem, a member of the Black Caucus and a friend of the NAACP. He owns rundown tenements in Harlem and in the Dominican Republic. I bet those Dominicans have no legal recourse as NYC residents do.

Nobody who treats humans and animals this way should call themselves a person of Faith, never. And the ones I've met who do this are anything but Christians. Kudos to the Red Bank officials who are trying to do the right thing. If this was LA or Chicago, forget it. The whole affair would be covered up.

September 7, 2010 at 10:57 a.m.
WeeWo said...

Well, well, Canary, I must say I finally have to agree with you! This article says nothing about the slum lord being Christian OR Republican. Just the typical name-calling we see in these posts. NO ONE, no matter who you are, no matter what color, religion, or nationality, deserves to live in these conditions. First and foremost, we are all humans, first.

I also agree that all the renters should gather together and not pay their rent. They need to work with the refuse and water departments and pay directly to them so the services continue. It's easy to sit back and place blame, but sometimes you have to band together and take the bull by the horns to change things.

September 7, 2010 at 11:26 a.m.
katerj said...

I am a resident at Ridgemont. There is mold in our walls, ductwork and outdoor storage. The tiles in the shower are largely held together with caulk instead of grout. The management and ownership is up to something. They tell lies and avoid responsibility like they breathe air. We are a married couple-- young professionals. All we want is a clean, well-maintained, well-managed apartment at a reasonable price. This property used to be in that condition. The office staff doesn't issue real reciepts and they don't have a professional system for tracking maintenence requests. Frequently, we are told that there is "no money" to fix problems.

The problem with stopping rent is that they will take action against you and it will become difficult to find a new apartment. Starwood LLC (the owners) have everyone over a barrel by making things just bad enough that the city won't condemn the facilities.

We'll be inviting the city to our home. All we want is to get out of this lease and to get away from whatever is happening there. As is, police have been on property constantly since this started appearing in the news.

September 7, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

katerj, our sympathies are definitely with you, heed the advice from above, the law is on your side fortunately.

Document everything you just stated and every incident, every day until you leave. Print out the article in case you ever need proof (ask the TFP) when you rent elsewhere.

In many states (check TN tenant law), you are allowed to withhold rent or the portion thereof, until complete repairs are made satisfactorily.

There are plenty of apts in Chattanooga and area that charge less rent and are in much better shape. Start looking. The law and the process are very slow usually, and in the meantime, your health and sanity are at risk by staying under those conditions.

The slum landlords will end up being charged/condemned, etc., but knowing slumlords, they'll put up a fight. Be prepared to stand up and speak out to city officials and encourage other tenants to allow the city to inspect. The media is your friend in this case because now it's out in the open.

The fact children, adults and animals exist in wealthy Chattanooga under slum conditions-anywhere in the city or suburbs is a shame on the establishment as a whole. Just as one poster said on another thread, 'if they have money for public art and trinkets, they have money to solve the real problems in our city.' (paraphrase)

September 7, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.
jimbob said...

slum lords listen to 2 things senyahc. money & a 12ga.

September 7, 2010 at 1:11 p.m.
alohaboy said...

If the picture of the young man walking home is at one of the complexes, the landlord didn't dump the trash all over the ground. Now if BFI, or whoever, didn't pick it up because they hadn't been paid and this caused it to overflow, he is also at fault. If my HVAC unit needed a filter and I couldn't get maintenance to replace it, I'd go to ACE, buy a filter and deduct the cost, about $4, from my rent payment.

September 7, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.
katerj said...

Alohaboy-- the trash is on the ground because the dumpsters stay full. I always get my own filters because management is negligent. I don't bother about deducting anything from my payment.

We are talking about buildings without functioning fire alarm systems. I notified management that this was the case, and was told that there was "no money" to put new batteries in the alarm boxes. Seriously?

LET US OUT!

September 7, 2010 at 5:08 p.m.
rambodaisymae said...

I know what you mean I have had all these problems as well the same men who own these 2 complexes also own mountain brook apartments and the situation there is just as bad and they have the same problems with the mold and the roaches while i was there the celing sustained water damage in my apartment and the kitchen light fell down they never replaced anything and i lived with a hole in my ceeling for over 6 months and went from having no mold and bugs to being consumed with them they never touched the celing the whole time i was there and that is only one reason i moved out

September 7, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.
MattKE said...

I lived at Ridgemont as well and I recently had to move out of my apartment because of the mass amount of black mold that was making me sick. Despite calling numerous times for weeks (during office hours) no one was ever in the office nor did they return any of my messages. Apartment managers who receive numerous messages from a tenant with black mold growing in his apartment and do absolutely nothing to resolve the problem deserve to be penalized under the law. After weeks of trying and threatening to call the health department an on-site handyman was sent to my apartment to look at the mold, not anyone certified. He proceeded to tell me that what was growing across my carpet was not mold and that was that. I am a student and currently sleeping on a friend's couch until I find another place to live. I've also had to see a doctor because of a sore throat and trouble breathing because of the mold spores.

It took threatening a lawsuit (literally) for them to let me out of my lease! Shame on the owners of this place. The fact that they have been ignoring problems as serious as black mold and no water is disgusting and I hope these people are prosecuted to the full extent of the law for their utter lack of concern for the people who pay them money every month.

September 7, 2010 at 6:23 p.m.
miss_bossy said...

I live in Cambridge Apartments. I just wanted to state that the picture of the trash is nothing like what it actually looks like. As you can see, the bins look burned. A few nights ago, the fire department had to come because the garbage cans were ablaze. I can only assume that someone intentionally burned it to get rid of the smell, considering the garbage cans are only a few feet away from some people doorsteps. & It is also on the ground because they rarely come to dump them. Ive actually only seen them empty 2 times in the past 6 months Ive lived here. They are always full. We throw our trash in the top, but it probably spills over with time, considering they never come to dump it.

Our water has been out 4 times, which if you look at that as "months" out of 6, its pretty pathetic. One morning we had water when I woke up to go to work, but apparently right after I left, my boyfriend got up & we had no water. Its completely random. So the water was out from about 7am-7pm or so. They had it turned back on apparently by the city we were told. But the payment from the owner never came through so they turned it back off the next morning.

There was a raccoon one day out wandering in broad daylight near the trash cans, and didnt seem the least bit worried about the people walking around. Someone from the city actually came today to take pictures at about 9am, we had water pressure that was not up to code, our fire extinguisher had not bee checked since 1997, & the smoke detectors do not work. Our kitchen light comes on somedays, & other days it wont. Apparently theres a weird short or something. Our door only stays shut when locked. If your walking around the apartment or someones coming up or down the stairs, our door opens. We believe we have rodents coming from under the oven. Theres feces in our pots almost everytime we get one from under the stove. & our air conditioning unit sparks when it turns off & on. When we first moved in it would wake me up in the middle of the night and I was scared it was going to catch on fire. Someone actually came to look at it & they said it just did that turning off & on & apparently it was okay. It hasnt started a fire or anything yet, but it sparks like 7 or 8 times jumping on & off everytime.

September 7, 2010 at 6:47 p.m.
brittanysc said...

I am so glad the article ran today! My name is Chris McJunkin and my girlfriend and I were the ones quoted in the paper. I would just like to explain my situation a little more. We have had black mold in and around our air conditioner and our sink since December of 2009! I have been calling nonstop since then and I have just been setting appointments with the maintenance men and they never show. My roommate and I have health issues from just being in our home! I have been researching symptoms of exposure to mold and ours are dead on. The staff in the office at Ridgemont Apartments called the police on us last week because we refused to stop calling them trying to fix this.

Aside from the mold, we are missing one door, two latches, our cabinets have been falling apart since the day we moved in, neither of our fans work, our food disposal is built in right under a leak in our sink that they refuse to fix, there are bugs everywhere, our water is turned off randomly without notice at all, and they're just not willing to help us!

I can't wait until we move out! We are actively looking for a new place but this entire situation is very stressful.

September 7, 2010 at 8:19 p.m.
bikermaniac101 said...

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&&note_id=437596743745 I posted a link here of my facebook note, it includes contact information and what I found out about Starwood LLC.

September 8, 2010 at 12:29 a.m.
Abe said...

Chris Carroll, Where are these apartment complexes? You say they're in Red Bank, but where?

September 8, 2010 at 12:55 a.m.
katerj said...

bikermaniac-- I don't think you've got the right starwood. Starwood Management LLC is ostensibly run out of Syracuse by two Irishmen, John and Patrick. John was in town last week in his red Saab with Syracuse plates.

By the by, hubby and I walked the property last night and saw many apartments abandoned with doors and windows open-- walls and ceilings covered in mold. Ridgemont renters live around and over these dens of iniquity.

Abe, Ridgemont is located at 20 Mason Drive.

September 8, 2010 at 7:34 a.m.
miss_bossy said...

I dont know where Ridgemont is but Cambridge Park is in between Red Bank in the S Curves. If you know where the Taco Bell is in Red Bank, you turn onto the street directly across from it, Memorial Drive. You pass the duck pond on the left & the apartments are immediately after.

September 10, 2010 at 6:25 p.m.
porkchop said...

I hope the city decides to condemn these places. I actually used to live in Ridgemont. My fiance was constantly in and out of the ER getting breathing treatments. At the time, it didn't really come to us that it was caused by breathing in mold and mildew. But now with all this coming out in the open, I finally know. We have over a $1000 worth of medical bills due to the unfit conditions of this place. I feel extremely taken advantage of. All that time I was paying to live in a place that was killing me and my fiance. Something needs to be done. I think I see a lawsuit in my future.

September 13, 2010 at 10:44 p.m.
LULU said...

MANAGERS ARE HIRED TO MANAGE RENTAL PROPERTY. A LOT OF THE RIDGEMONT PROBLEMS ARE DUE TO THE BRAINLESS MANAGER WHO WAS RECENTLY FIRED. SHE WOULD NOT LISTEN. SHE HAD A DON'T CARE ATTITUDE. IF SHE HAD HAD A BACKBONE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS COULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN CARE OF.

September 13, 2010 at 10:52 p.m.
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